Aliya, Gillian and Miya are all haunted by the same boy.
Aliya loves him even though he isn’t Muslim. Gillian needs the money he promised her so that she can get back to Trinidad. And Miya desperately wishes she could take back what she said to him at that party.
But Trevor is dead and he isn’t coming back. Unless these girls have it their way in Three Witches (2009) by Paula Jolin.
Sounds exciting right?
I particularly liked that this novel was drawing on witchcraft lore from three different cultures (Jolin has a Master’s in Islamic Studies which is likely why that aspect of the story is most plotted out). Except by the end of the story, the girls are really just making it up as they go along.
The pacing is incredibly slow. Jolin jumps around a lot, telling different events of the story from each girl’s perspective. Instead of creating a tight narrative, this made all of the characters feel distant. The plot also felt really tedious because Jolin has a knack for switching point of view right when readers will want to see what happens next.
The writing itself was also frustrating. Certain parts of the story were presented in a very heavy handed fashion. Gillian’s love of Trinidad, for instance, was so over the top it actually became hyperbolic. Other aspect Jolin treated with such a light touch that it is still unclear what actually happened.
The real problem with Three Witches was the ending. As the story progresses and the girls continue to chase after Trevor and piece together his last night (and bring him back) it is obvious that they are falling apart. The story ends abruptly with what I can only call band-aid fixes for the girls problems.
Aliyah did actually seem to grow and move on. Gillian, bizarrely went through the entire book only to end up back where she started with her desire to go back to Trinidad (with the one distinction being eventually rather than right away).
Miya, meanwhile, has turned to Asceticism and is convinced that by hurting herself she is able to channel the spirits and invoke their power. There are so many problems with that I don’t even know where to start, especially because I really liked Miya as a character initially.
The Lifetime Movie Style Ending (speedy wrap up and little resolution) make it unclear if the girls’ spiritual misadventures worked or not. If they did, Miya is going to keep hurting herself to gain more power. If they didn’t, Miya is still going to keep hurting herself. AND she’s delusional.
Jolin never addresses this one way or the other. It is so painfully clear that Miya is broken and needs help, but she doesn’t get it by the end of the story. And, worse, Jolin never even really says she needs help leaving a huge opening for readers who, looking for an excuse to hurt themselves, might have found the excuse they needed in this character who thinks she is “new and improved” and stronger because of the pain she is causing herself. (I’m talking standing naked under waterfalls in winter, walking over hot coals, and pricking herself with pins by the way.)
Now, you might say there are other books that deal with this kind of problem like Cut, Wintergirls, and even in some way Specials. The difference is those books eventually do address hurting yourself as being a problem. Jolin never does. In fact, the open-ended closure of the novel suggests it might even be giving Miya the power she thinks she has. Substandard writing aside, I don’t really know how anyone could recommend Three Witches in good conscience when it has a character like Miya as model.